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Firm that only let woman truck drivers train with other women biased: Judge

Firm that only let woman truck drivers train with other women biased: Judge

A federal judge has ruled that a trucking company violated federal law by discriminating against female truck driver applicants when it required they be trained only by other women, said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The trucking firm, Springfield, Missouri-based New Prime Inc., instituted the policy in 2004 “in good faith,” said the firm's attorney, in a statement.

The company has more than 4,000 trucks and about 6,700 drivers, both independent contractors and employees, according to court papers.

In his ruling, which was issued last week and announced by the EEOC Monday, Judge Douglas Harpool of U.S. District Court in Springfield said the company had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with its policy. “Prime's argument that the same-sex trainer policy is necessary to protect the safety and privacy of women is without merit,” said the ruling.

The EEOC said in its statement that New Prime had introduced the policy after it was found in a previous EEOC lawsuit to have violated Title VII based upon the sexual harassment of one of its female driver trainees. In September 2011, the agency filed suit against New Prime again, based on a discrimination charge filed by Deanna Roberts Clouse, it said in its statement.

The EEOC charged New Prime's policy of assigning female trainees only to female trainers discriminated against Ms. Clouse and all other female applicants for truck driver trainee positions because of their sex.

It said because Prime has very few female trainers, this practice resulted in female trainees waiting sometimes up to 18 months for a female driver to become available, which resulted in most female drivers being denied employment. Male applicants were promptly assigned to male trainers, the EEOC said.

The case will now proceed to determine damages and remedies to the class of women who were harmed by the policy, the EEOC said.

“This is a resounding success for the EEOC's systemic program,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez, in a statement.

New Prime attorney JoAnne Spears Jackson, a shareholder with law firm Polsinelli P.C. in Springfield, said in a statement, “In 2004, Prime implemented a training policy that required that its over-the-road truck driver trainees be trained by someone of the same gender.

“Prime implemented the policy in good faith believing that significant concerns for the safety and privacy of its female driver trainees satisfied a long-recognized exception to the discrimination laws. In its recent ruling, the Court did not agree that this exception applied to this case. Prime respects the ruling of the Court. Significant issues though still remain to be determined in this case.”

Last year, an Iowa federal judge ordered the EEOC to pay $4.7 million in legal fees and costs for “unreasonable or groundless” claims in a putative class action sexual harassment lawsuit it filed against a trucking company.

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